Breaking the Spell Book Summary - Breaking the Spell Book explained in key points

Breaking the Spell summary

Daniel C. Dennett

Brief summary

Breaking the Spell by Daniel C. Dennett is a thought-provoking exploration of the origins and evolution of religious belief. It challenges readers to critically examine the role of religion in society and consider a naturalistic alternative.

Give Feedback
Table of Contents

    Breaking the Spell
    Summary of key ideas

    Understanding the Power of Religion

    In Breaking the Spell, Daniel C. Dennett, a prominent philosopher and cognitive scientist, delves into the origins and impact of religious belief. He begins by acknowledging the taboo surrounding the scientific study of religion, but argues that understanding its evolutionary roots and societal influence is crucial for our future.

    Dennett introduces the concept of belief in belief, suggesting that people may not necessarily believe in the tenets of their religion, but rather in the importance of believing. He explores the idea that religious beliefs are memes, cultural units of information that spread and evolve through human societies, much like genes.

    The Evolution of Religion

    Continuing his exploration, Dennett delves into the evolutionary origins of religion. He suggests that religion may have emerged as a byproduct of other cognitive adaptations, such as our ability to recognize agency and intention in others. This tendency, he argues, led early humans to attribute agency to natural phenomena, giving rise to animistic beliefs.

    As societies grew more complex, so did their religious beliefs. Dennett discusses the role of religion in fostering cooperation and social cohesion, and how it may have served as an early form of governance. He also examines the emergence of organized religions and their influence on human societies.

    Challenging Religious Dogma

    While acknowledging the positive aspects of religion, Dennett also critically examines its negative impacts. He discusses the dangers of dogmatic belief systems, which can lead to intolerance, violence, and hinder scientific progress. He argues that understanding the evolutionary origins of religion can help us address these negative aspects and foster a more rational, tolerant society.

    Furthermore, Dennett challenges the idea that religion is necessary for morality. He presents evidence that moral behavior predates organized religion and is rooted in our evolutionary history as social animals. He suggests that secular moral systems, based on reason and empathy, can provide a more solid foundation for ethical behavior.

    Breaking the Spell of Religion

    In the final section of Breaking the Spell, Dennett proposes strategies for addressing the negative aspects of religion. He advocates for a more open, scientific study of religion, free from the fear of offending religious sensibilities. He also encourages a more critical, rational approach to religious beliefs, challenging the idea that they are beyond scrutiny.

    However, Dennett is careful to emphasize the importance of respecting individual religious beliefs and freedoms. He suggests that understanding the evolutionary origins of religion can help us appreciate its cultural and psychological significance, while also encouraging a more open, tolerant dialogue between believers and non-believers.


    In conclusion, Breaking the Spell is a thought-provoking exploration of the power and influence of religious belief. Dennett's scientific approach challenges us to critically examine our beliefs, while also fostering a deeper understanding of the role religion plays in our lives and societies. Whether you are a believer, a skeptic, or somewhere in between, this book offers valuable insights into one of the most enduring and influential aspects of human culture.

    Give Feedback
    How do we create content on this page?
    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    What is Breaking the Spell about?

    Breaking the Spell by Daniel C. Dennett delves into the origins and evolution of religious belief. It challenges the idea that religion is off-limits to scientific inquiry and offers a thought-provoking analysis of the role it plays in society. Dennett encourages readers to question and examine their own beliefs, making it a compelling read for anyone interested in the intersection of science and religion.

    Breaking the Spell Review

    Breaking the Spell by Daniel C. Dennett (2006) offers a thought-provoking exploration of the origins and consequences of beliefs in the supernatural. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It employs rigorous analysis and scientific evidence to tackle the age-old question of religion, shedding light on how it shapes our lives and societies.
    • By examining various religious practices and beliefs, it challenges readers to reconsider their own assumptions and encourages critical thinking.
    • Delving into the complexities of religion with clarity and honesty, it sparks intellectual curiosity and offers valuable insights into human behavior and culture.

    Who should read Breaking the Spell?

    • Readers who are curious about the origins and nature of religious belief
    • Individuals who are open to exploring challenging and thought-provoking ideas
    • Those interested in the intersection of science and religion and the implications for society

    About the Author

    Daniel C. Dennett is a prominent philosopher and cognitive scientist known for his work on the philosophy of mind and consciousness. He has written extensively on the topic, exploring the nature of belief, evolution, and religion. Some of his other notable books include Consciousness Explained and Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Dennett's thought-provoking ideas have made a significant impact on the fields of philosophy and cognitive science.

    Categories with Breaking the Spell

    People ❤️ Blinkist 
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    31 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    10+ years
    Experience igniting personal growth
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 7,000+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial

    Breaking the Spell FAQs 

    What is the main message of Breaking the Spell?

    Breaking the Spell explores the scientific understanding of religion and offers insights into its historical and cultural significance.

    How long does it take to read Breaking the Spell?

    The reading time for Breaking the Spell varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Breaking the Spell a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Breaking the Spell is a thought-provoking book that challenges our assumptions about religion. It provides valuable insights into human beliefs and behaviors.

    Who is the author of Breaking the Spell?

    Daniel C. Dennett is the author of Breaking the Spell.

    What to read after Breaking the Spell?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Breaking the Spell, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
    • Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
    • The Now Habit by Neil Fiore
    • Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susann Jeffers
    • Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
    • Incognito by David Eagleman
    • Quiet by Susan Cain
    • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
    • Happiness by Richard Layard
    • Influence by Robert B. Cialdini